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Jeanne Calment and French comedians Jeanne Calment and French comedians
by Jay Gutman
2019-02-18 07:27:17
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Jeanne Calment's age has been all over the news recently. She died at 122, setting the world record for the oldest person known to have lived. On the other hand, France is taking a scandal that hit its comedy industry very seriously involving massive plagiarism of American stand-up comedians.

Regarding Jeanne Calment. Some say she wasn't 122 when she passed away, but 99. Russian researchers claimed that Jeanne Calment's daughter had assumed her mother's identity for inheritance purposes. Several clinical tests support the hypothesis, such as medical tests done on Jeanne Calment that show that she was probably in her 90s.

jamie01_400I view such claims with skepticism. If Jeanne Calment had assumed her mother's identity, the entire city of Arles would have eventually found out about the deception. If Calment had lived reclusively in Paris and had assumed the identity of her mother, that would have been possible. But in the small town of Arles, a town of less than 50,000 at the time, people in the neighborhood probably would have denounced the deception.

One area where a lot of people know a lot of stuff but rarely say anything is in the French media. How many times have I caught French philosophers, writers, thinkers plagiarize American writers? Alain Soral, a famous anti-Semite who has been sentenced to prison recently, plagiarized I would say around 30% of his ideas from American anti-Semite and former Ku Klux Klan member David Duke, without ever mentioning David Duke in his anti-Semitic tirades. Each time an American best-seller hits the shelves, some French guy comes up with a paraphrased version. Malcolm Gladwell, Steven Pinker and Matt Ridley have all been paraphrased, along with many other works, though their authors are lesser known.

Recently, a number of comedians have been caught plagiarizing American stand-up comedians. Gad Elmaleh, Djamel Debbouze, Tomer Sisley, Malek Bentalha and other comedians were caught massively plagiarizing jokes from fellow French, Canadian and American stand-up comedians. Some copy the jokes verbatim, others paraphrase the jokes.

Watching French comedians over the years, although some of them are decent, I felt like most French comedians lacked authenticity. I always felt like there was a huge gap between the French comedian's ability to improvise jokes and their ability to deliver jokes on the stage.

Some French comedians just can't deliver jokes while being interviewed. Other comedians are hyperactive when being interviewed, and it's their weird behavior rather than wit that makes people laugh, often out of embarrassment.

French comedy has often valued form over content. Traditionally, French comedy was about faking accents, using lots of hesitations during gigs, using lots of slapstick, having imaginary friends with very funny names, and repeating things several times to make them funnier. One liner or two liners were not the norm in French comedy.

Stand-up comedy was introduced in 2005 by Tomer Sisley. Sisley, an Israeli born in Germany to a Yemeni Jewish father and a Russian Jewish mother, and raised in the South of France, sold his gig as being about someone who is “Jewish and Arab.” Most people went see him thinking they would hear someone discuss the complicated upbringing of a half-Jew, half-Arab, but ended up hearing translated jokes from famous American stand-up comedians. Sisley admitted he plagiarized a lot in his gig.

Gad Elmaleh and Djamel Debbouze have rock-star status in France. Camera crews follow them in their tours, their families have become household names, so has their life story. As I watched them over the years, I noticed their jokes were not authentic, as they are the funny-accent slapstick kind of guys, not the kind of guys to make funny observations about society. Turns out a lot of their jokes were stolen.

Two questions remain. Why is the French media making it sound like French comedians are all plagiarizing their jokes? A lot of French comedians don't. Second question is why hasn't the media addressed plagiarism in intellectual circles? I once saw a guy advertise a book he had “written” which was basically a rehash version of Steven Pinker's '”the better angles of our nature.” And the guy did not cite Pinker once during his long interview. I've seen other authors promote books that were rehashes of Ridley's “the red queen” or Malcolm Gladwell's “outliers.” Dubner and Levit's “freakonomics has been rehashed several times as well. Not to mention fiction books which are often rehashed. Not to mention jokes in movies and soap operas.

Nonetheless plagiarism is widespread everywhere. Perhaps someday, in France and elsewhere, people will start looking at Ph.D. dissertations and find out what percentage of them have been plagiarized. They will then say “we all knew they were plagiarized!” And people will come up with lame excuses like “even Einstein plagiarized!”

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